In Egypt, the years of turmoil following its 2011 uprising have seen revolutionary graffiti fade away as the country slowly tries to move on, but hidden scars remain for children who grew up during the chaos and lost loved ones.
The grief touches children of all kinds in this country, cutting across Christian and Muslim families, the sons of the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood group to the daughters of police officers and soldiers. And how they process the sorrow varies widely.
“Kids have different understandings for what they experience, and they are psychologically affected by different things than adults,” says psychiatrist Eman Gaber, who leads a rehabilitation program for traumatized children. “When a child loses a parent, a relative, a friend or a person he likes or knows, maybe he wants the killer or killers to feel the loss he feels.
“The pain doesn’t come to the person who is dead, but to the ones that are still alive.”
Gaber says there are no statistics about how many children suffered trauma in Egypt’s recent unrest, though it’s “still hard not to be exposed to any violence,” whether that was rioting in their neighborhood or images seen on television or the Internet.
For 13-year-old Adham Ehab Anwar, whose policeman father was shot to death in an attack on his station after the bloody security force breakup of Islamist sit-ins in Cairo in 2013, the idea of joining the military brings solace. Holding a wrench before a portrait of his late father, Adham says he wants to invent “anti-terrorism devices.”
Two Coptic Christian children, 10-year-old Abanoub Samaan Nazmy and 9-year-old Youstina Malak Rasmy, lost their fathers to suspected military snipers as they protested in March 2011 over the burning of a church. Abanoub, turning a toy pistol over in his hands, wants justice: “I want to be a police officer to avenge my father.”
For Youstina, art helps deal with her grief.
“I’d like to be a painter like him, because I love his paintings and to meet him in heaven,” she says.
Jihad Abdo Elmasry, 12, also wants to join the security forces after watching her father, who was selling stone-carved figurines, get badly beaten at Tahrir Square in August 2013 over offering pro-government views.
“I dream to be a police officer and to inspect women in veils” Jihad says, as some believe Islamists at the time hid weapons in women’s loose-fitting niqabs to avoid detection.
Jana Amr Elbana, a 5-year-old girl whose father supported the Muslim Brotherhood and was shot to death protesting in 2014, finds no solace at school. She says her teachers beat students at school for not doing their work.
She wants to manage a school, “because the teacher beats the kids and the manager beats the teacher.”
But it isn’t just the young who remain haunted. For liberal Salah Gaber, 49, who is not related to the psychiatrist, he misses his son, who was killed by security forces in November 2012 near Tahrir Square. His son once spent hours on a computer his father bought him looking online at “see how other boys his age in the world have rights, good education, good hospitals and job opportunities,” Gaber said.
“If he came back to life, I would support him if he went to the street again,” his father said, sitting near a portrait of yet another lost.
Here are a series of images by Cairo photographer Hamada Elrasam showing the collective grief felt by many Egyptians after years of turmoil.
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